Eagles-Vikings scouting report and prediction | Paul Domowitch
The complete Eagles-Vikings scouting report, including key matchups, keys to the game and a fearless prediction.
The Eagles will begin a string of three straight road games when they play the Vikings at 1 p.m. Sunday in U.S. Bank Stadium.
Here’s an in-depth breakdown of the matchup of 3-2 teams.
When the Eagles run
The Eagles have been rotating Jordan Howard and rookie Miles Sanders at running back. While Sanders has the higher ceiling, Howard has been the more productive of the two. In the last two games, Howard averaged 5.3 yards per carry, scored three rushing touchdowns, and had seven runs of 10 yards or more in 28 carries.
Howard leads the team in rushing yards (248), rush average (4.7 yards per carry), first-down rush average (4.3), rushing touchdowns (4), rushing first downs (16), and double-digit-yard runs (9). Howard is a physical downhill runner who has just two negative runs in 53 carries.
The Vikings are ninth in run defense (88.2 yards allowed per game) and fifth in opponent rush average (3.6). Middle linebacker Eric Kendricks anchors a very good front seven. The Vikings have allowed one rushing touchdown and just 10 runs of 10 yards or more. That’s the sixth fewest in the NFL. They held the Saquon-less Giants to 64 yards on 20 carries last Sunday, and held the Bears to 2.2 yards per carry the week before.
When the Eagles throw
The Eagles have the second-best third-down offense (52.9%) in the league, and Carson Wentz is a big reason. He is fifth in third-down passing with a 117.4 passer rating. His 64.7 third-down completion percentage is more than four points higher than his overall completion rate (60.3). He’s thrown a league-high five touchdown passes on third down. Wentz has thrown just two interceptions, none since Week 2.
The injury to DeSean Jackson has affected the passing game. Wentz has completed just 4 of 15 deep balls (throws of 20 yards or more) in the four games without Jackson. He averaged 8.0 yards per attempt in Week 1 with Jackson but just 6.2 without him. Alshon Jeffery is averaging a career-low 9.9 yards per catch. Nelson Agholor had five receiving first downs in Week 2 but has had only three in the Eagles’ other four games. The Eagles likely will play a lot of "12′' personnel with tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
The Vikings are 23rd in opponent completion percentage (68.6) but don’t give up the deep ball. They’ve allowed just 11 pass plays of 20-plus yards, the third fewest in the league, and are fourth in yards allowed per attempt (6.2). They have a solid pass rush led by edge-rushers Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen that has 15 sacks.
When the Vikings run
The Vikings have become a run-first team that is averaging 30.6 rushing attempts per game, the fifth most in the league. And why not? They finally have a pretty good offensive line and one of the league’s best running backs in Dalvin Cook.
Cook is second in the NFL in rushing to the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey with 542 yards. Cook is averaging a decent 4.0 yards per carry on first down, but it’s been on second down where he’s done the most damage, averaging 9.6 yards per carry. Ten of his 13 double-digit-yard runs have come on second down.
Rookie Alexander Mattison has been an excellent complement to Cook. The 5-foot-11, 220-pounder is a good short-yardage weapon who has 10 rushing first downs in just 34 carries.
This will be the biggest challenge of the season for an Eagles defense that is second in the league in opponent rush average (3.2). Just one team has even bothered to run the ball more than 20 times vs. the Eagles. That was the Lions in Week 3 (28). The Eagles have allowed just 3.2 yards per carry on first down, the second-best mark in the league. They’ve allowed the third-fewest runs of 10-plus yards (8).
When the Vikings throw
Kirk Cousins is averaging just 25.2 pass attempts this year. Last year, he averaged 37.9. Cousins is accurate and has a strong arm and good mobility. He’s fifth in yards per attempt (8.3) and ninth in completion percentage (68.3). He’s thrown just two interceptions in 126 attempts.
The Vikings have one of the league’s most dangerous wideout tandems in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. But the emphasis on the run game has had a big impact on their production. Both are averaging more than 15 yards per catch. But Thielen, who had 113 receptions last season, has just 20. Diggs, who can take the top off a defense and had nine TD catches last year, has just one.
The challenge for the Eagles’ injury-ravaged secondary will be keeping Diggs and Thielen in front of them, while also staying aggressive in run support against Cook and Mattison. Jim Schwartz doesn’t like to blitz, but he’s hasn’t been reluctant to send extra rushers after Cousins. In five games vs. Cousins over the last three years, Schwartz sent extra rushers on 28.9% of the pass plays. But the Vikings’ potent ground game might make him reluctant to be that aggressive Sunday.
Jake Elliott has made all five of his field goal attempts. His longest has been only 41 yards. Punter Cam Johnston is sixth in gross average (47.8) and fourth in net (44.7). He’s put 11 of his 19 attempts inside the 20. Of his last 13 punts, six were fair-caught, two went out of bounds, three were returned for zero yards, and eight were inside the 20.
Punt returner Darren Sproles injured his quad last week and won’t play. The Eagles likely will replace him with Nelson Agholor or Boston Scott.
The Eagles gave up a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to the Lions’ Jamal Agnew in Week 3. But aside from that, their coverage units have done a decent job.
Vikings kicker Dan Bailey has the sixth-best field goal accuracy rate in NFL history (86.6). He’s even better in stadiums with domes or retractable roofs (89.3). He’s made 7 of his 8 attempts this season, the only miss a 47-yarder in Week 2 at Green Bay.
Punter Britton Colquitt is 15th in net average (43.1). Ten of his 19 attempts have been returned. The Vikings’ coverage units have struggled. They’ve given up 7.9 yards per return on punts and 30.0 on kickoffs.
The last time the Eagles played in U.S. Bank Stadium was Super Bowl LII. That could be a detriment if they dwell on that game too long and don’t start this game with urgency. The Vikings are 2-0 at home this season and have averaged 31 points in those wins.
Eagles 31, Vikings 30
Eagles CBs Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Orlando Scandrick, Craig James vs. Vikings WRs Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs: While the Vikings are relying more on the run, Thielen and Diggs still are one of the league’s best receiving tandems. The Eagles are missing three of their top four cornerbacks, and Jones is coming off a hamstring injury. ADVANTAGE: Vikings
Eagles LT Jason Peters, RT Lane Johnson vs. Vikings DEs Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen: Hunter had 14½ sacks last year and already has five this year. Griffin is an explosive rusher with 69½ career sacks. Peters, 37, might not be what he was, but he’s still pretty good. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Eagles DE Brandon Graham vs. Vikings RT Brian O’Neill, RG Josh Kline: Graham had a career-high three sacks vs. the Jets last week. He likely will line up both inside and outside. O’Neill and Kline have given up zero sacks and just two QB hits in the Vikings’ first five games. ADVANTAGE: Even
Keys to the game
Third-down dominance: The Eagles have the second-best third-down offense in the league through five games (52.9 percent) and need to continue that. Twenty-six of Wentz’s 51 third-down pass attempts have produced first downs.
Slow-cooking: The Eagles, second in the league in opponent rush average, don’t need to shut down Cook, but they do need to keep the Vikings back from running amok and being a difference-maker.
The red-zone battle: The Eagles are tied for fifth in red-zone production, converting 13 of 19 red-zone opportunities (68.4%) into touchdowns. Wentz is 12-for-21 with five TDs and no interceptions in the red zone. But the Vikings have one of the league’s top red-zone defenses. They’re fifth in red-zone defense, allowing just six TDs in 13 challenges inside the 20 (46.2%).